(Above: 1995 Google Earth satellite image of the polio camp at the former Knobbs Beach Life -Saving Station)
No one knows how a sandy cove on the west side of Plum Island about two miles from its southern tip got its name, but 19th Century photographs show a couple of tall dunes which have long since vanished. The Knobbs is the only beach in an otherwise continuous stretch of salt marsh, and provided a landing for sportsmen hunting the abundant shore birds of Plum Island Sound before it became the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
Directly opposite the Knobbs on the Atlantic side of Plum Island was the Knobbs Beach Life -Saving Station, built in 1890. Captain Frank Stevens was given command, and during his 33-year career participated in the rescue of crews from over a hundred wrecked or stranded vessels. On May 4, 1893, the schooner “Brave” from Deer Isle was driven on the shore near Knobbs Beach and the Captain and three men were drowned.
Located in the Ipswich part of Plum Island, the lighthouse was so isolated that the crew had to store enough food to get them through several weeks in the winter. Bar Island Head was the south end of the beach patrol, and a crew member from the Knobbs station would walk north to a half-way point to meet a crew member from the identical life-saving station located at the northern tip of the island. The Knobbs station operated until the end of World War II.
Camp Sea Haven
In 1947, Daniel R. Harrington Sr., a polio survivor, founded a camp on Plum Island for polio victims on the location of the former Knobbs Coast Guard station. His family operated the camp for more than two decades as a public service, and after polio was eradicated in the ’50s and ’60s, they began accepting children with other disabilities. From 1972 – 1988 the facility was operated by the Cerebral Palsy Foundation. The property was bought by the Parker River Refuge, and the buildings were removed.
Today the site of the life-saving station and polio camp can be reached by a trail that starts at parking lot 5 on the Refuge Road that leads to Sandy Point State Reservation. The nearby Pines Trail entrance road was originally constructed to provide access to the camps at the beach on the Plum Island Sound side.
Sources and further reading:
- Nancy Weare, “Plum Island: The Way It Was.”
- Bill Sargent, Ipswich Chronicle
- Seahaven Reunion, Newburyport News
- Annual Report of the United States Life-Saving Service, “Wreck of the Schooner Brave.”